Pat Brisson discusses the CBA’s effect on prospects

By Simon Richard

Prospects constitute the raw material of the NHL, the essential fuel needed to assure a continuity in the quality of the product year after year for the benefit of both hockey fans and the NHL teams alike.

While the 18-year-old basketball franchise player Lebron James has signed for $100 million or so last year, we wonder how much will the young phenom Sidney Crosby will get within the new CBA? The NBA has understood it deeply needs James and other young superstars. Does the NHL hold the same view?

There has been a lot of ink spilled about the present negotiations between the NHL and the NHLPA. But are prospects really considered in the process? And what are the impacts of the lockout on prospects?

IMG and Patrice Brisson

IMG is undoubtedly one of the most important agencies in hockey. Founded in the 1960’s, IMG is known for having such names as Michael Schumacher, Tiger Woods and Maria Sharapova as clients. Both Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky have been associated with the firm, and today 60 or so NHLers are associated with IMG. The list of 2004 NHL draftees that are IMG clients includes first-rounders Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh, 2nd overall), Lauri Tukonen (Los Angeles, 11th overall) and Wojtek Wolski (Colorado, 21st overall).

About half dozen players involved in the two games between the QMJHL Stars and the Russian Selects are IMG clients. The list includes 2005 NHL draft eligible prospects Guillaume Latendresse and Alex Bourret as well as Dany Roussin (Florida, 2003), Alexandre Picard (defenseman, Philadelphia, 2003), David Tremblay (Philadelphia, 2003) and Kirill Lyamin (Ottawa, 2004). Sidney Crosby, who was in Montreal for the event, but was kept off the ice due to an injury, is also associated with IMG.

IMG Co-Managing Director of Hockey Pat Brisson traveled to Montreal to attend the second game of the ADT CHL-Russia Challenge, November 22 and 23.

Brisson played four years in the QMJHL in the early 1980’s where, among others, he had Pat Lafontaine and Luc Robitaille as teammates. He then played in Europe before moving in California where he has contributed to the growth of hockey and has been involved in both hockey school and ice rink businesses.

Brisson became a hockey player agent in 1996. He is well respected across the hockey world and is therefore well placed to comment on some aspects of the lockout regarding the NHL prospects.

Hockey’s Future met Brisson outside the Russian dressing room in the Bell Center during the ADT CHL-Russia Challenge. He talked about the situation of the prospects in the CBA negotiations.

HF: Are there any impacts of the lockout on the young drafted prospects of your organization?
PB: There are some impacts particularly on the 1985-born players who have been drafted in 2003. Those players must have signed with their NHL team before June 1st of 2005. If they aren’t signed, what will happen then? We don’t know it yet because this is related to the CBA and there is no CBA yet. For example, this situation concerns Dany Roussin and David Tremblay. They could be impacted but we have no idea what will happen.

HF: Are the young drafted players preoccupied by the situation?
PB: They are talking a little bit about the situation. They have asked me some questions, but I don’t have the answer yet. They are patient and understand the situation. They are waiting on the developments and do not feel too bad at the moment.

HF: Do you have any specific strategies planned for them?
PB: At this time, we will see what will happen with the lockout. If the NHL season is cancelled in January, then we will consider many options we have already evaluated. Our organization is prepared for this and we will find either solutions or options for the players concerned.

HF: Is the situation worrying the undrafted players associated with IMG?
PB: They are asking themselves what will happen, but they don’t worried that much. For example, the 2005 NHL Entry Draft eligible players like Bourret, Crosby and Latendresse don’t talk that much about it for now. They keep concentrated on their junior career and will see what is going to happen with the negotiations. I would say that they are not very disturbed for the moment.

HF: Can you comment on the NHLPA role in protecting the prospects?
PB: The NHLPA is trying to keep a balance among the different categories of players. The Association has made a proposition to the NHL on September 9th that I have read and I can affirm this proposition tended to keep that balance. Before 1994, the system was wide open [for the entry level players]. After 1994, there were some restrictions introduced and there is no doubt it does so now again. But the NHLPA’s proposition also impacts the more fortunate players, including the five percent salary cut. There are impacts on everyone — that is a balanced proposition. It is said that the NHLPA and the veterans are ready to let down the younger ones, but it is not true according to me.

HF: Are there specific clauses in the CBA you would like to have seen improved for the entry level players?
PB: I can deal with a four-year contract instead of a three-year one. I can also live with the 850K cap. However, to me, there should not be restrictions on the performance bonuses. For example, Ilya Kovalchuk had 87 points last season and our client Rick Nash scored 41 goals. Nash was the best scorer in the NHL with Kovalchuk and Jarome Iginla. If a kid makes $4 million because he was among the best of all, he deserves it. You know, it is not that easy to score 20 goals now in the NHL. The bonuses are not easy to reach. The performance bonuses should definitively be kept in place for the young players.

HF: Anything else to improve?
PB: Actually, a young junior player in North America has to stay two years with the team who drafted him. The problem is when the kid doesn’t sign before the expiration of this 24-month delay, he has then no leverage to work with. I would not say there is collusion among the NHL teams, but facts prove that when a prospect is eligible again after two years, very often, the same team selects him again. So, a kid who has not signed during the first two years has nothing to gain if he re-enters into the draft process.

I think that two years is a reasonable elapsed time to sign an entry level player. If the team can’t reach an agreement, the kid should have the right to make a deal with another team. Anyway, the young prospect would be under the salary cap. For example, if the Montreal Canadians couldn’t reach an agreement with a drafted player in the two years following the draft, the kid should be authorized to sign with another team, say the New York Rangers. As already said, the latter could not give him $3 million because of the maximum salary authorized by the CBA would forbid it.

The owners should be proud of the entry level system because under this system, the ones that perform get compensated accordingly and the others aren’t. That is a fair system. According to the NHLPA’s offer, the performance bonuses would be topped to 25 percent instead of 50 percent as it was in the previous CBA. If a young player wouldn’t succeed, the team could send him in the minor leagues or let him play in the juniors for two years. It is about time to stop complaining about the young players. You sign a kid, he plays well. Fine, you pay him. He doesn’t, you send him back to the junior or you pay him 60K in the minors. What more do [NHL teams] want?

HF: On the young Europeans and the ones from the US colleges?
PB: I think that the NHL teams have too much leverage concerning the Europeans and the college players. Those young players should not be tied up to the team they were drafted from for more than two years. After the last NHL draft, our client Evgeni Malkin has inked for five years with the Russian team Metallurg Magnitodorsk. The Pittsburgh Penguins had until July 30th to sign him but they have chosen to wait until the next CBA. Hey, the problem is that Magnitodorsk will not let him go easily. They will ask a lot of money to do so. We have said that to Pittsburgh. I’m telling you, you’ve got to know how to manage your entry level system.

HF: You mean there is a lot at stake regarding the agreement with the IIHF?
PB: Sure, there is a lot at stake. You know, there is a lot of money now in Russia. For example, there is Abramovich in Omsk and the ownership of the Kazan team. It is said that Kazan has a $50 or 60 million payroll, which would be more than many NHL teams. And don’t forget that there is a good quality hockey played now in Russia.

HF: Finally, how many clients you expect to be involved in the upcoming WJC in North Dakota?
PB: Well, we had nine clients invited to the Canadian Junior team Development Camp last August. Five or six may make the final roster. On the whole, I think that close of 20 IMG clients should be at the WJC.

Simon Richard is the author of La Serie du siecle, Septembre 1972, a book about the Summit Series published in 2002.
Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.